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Clinical Trials Help Advance Cancer Treatment at St. Luke’s Regional Cancer Center

Category: Patient Stories
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Dr. Basem Goueli, Medical Director of St. Luke’s Regional Cancer Center, talks with patient Taire Suliin in the Cancer Center’s infusion therapy clinicPublished in Duluthian Magazine, March/April 2015

Clinical trials help advance cancer treatment at St. Luke’s Regional Cancer Center

“It’s cancer.”

Few phrases in the English language have the stopping power of those two words. In our society, it seems almost everyone has a story of a friend or loved one who has had to deal with cancer in some form. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are more than 100 different types of cancer, originating in virtually every organ in the human body. In the United States, there will be an estimated 1.6 million new cases of cancer in 2015, 29,000 of which will occur in Minnesota. Dr. Basem Goueli, MD, PhD, Medical Director of St. Luke’s Regional Cancer Center, says that while those statistics are useful in providing a sense of the impact of cancer, “we treat every patient uniquely, as cancer therapy is highly nuanced, and every patient is different.”

The role of clinical trials

One of the most powerful tools that an oncologist has in the fight against cancer is access to the newest experimental cancer drugs. These drugs are rapidly being developed and tested through a multi-step process called clinical trials, which are stringently controlled, and designed to test the efficacy of new drugs on specific types of cancer. “The idea behind a clinical trial is to see if a drug will benefit patients,” said Dr. Goueli. “These drugs can prove instrumental in a patient’s fight against cancer; they can sometimes provide hope where there was none.”

The challenge, says Dr. Goueli, is convincing pharmaceutical companies to allow your center to participate in their trials. “In order for a cancer center to conduct a trial, it needs to have a strong research staff, a clinical trial infrastructure, a significant patient population, and an oncology team with a proven record that pharmaceutical companies can trust. It takes an enormous amount of effort to ensure that all the protocols are being met, and that requires a high level of organization and competency.”

Size matters

There are thousands of clinical trials being conducted at major medical centers throughout the country, but it is unusual for a health system the size of St. Luke’s to have as robust a clinical trial program as it does. St. Luke’s Regional Cancer Center has been able to bring several of the most promising cancer therapeutics to northern Minnesota because of its research department—Whiteside Institute for Clinical Research—trial infrastructure, well-coordinated scientific and Institutional Review Board processes, relationship with pharmaceutical companies and talented Hematology and Oncology staff.

“We actually have an advantage over larger, health systems, because our size enables us to more efficiently recruit and initiate clinical trials in many ways,” said Dr. Goueli. “We are very selective in the trials that we participate in, as we strive to recruit only the most promising clinical trials based on our understanding of the mechanisms of the drugs used, and the diseases they are being used to treat. Accordingly, we currently have excellent clinical trials in leukemias, and in cancers involving the breast, prostate, colon, brain, lung and ovary.”

The future of cancer care

Clinical trials have and will continue to play a central role in the treatment of cancer patients. “I am very proud of the fact that we have the most promising clinical trial base in northern Minnesota,” said Dr. Goueli, “for we are constantly working with pharmaceutical companies to bring the most exciting cancer therapies to our center for our patients, as they deserve nothing less.”

In addition to clinical trials, St. Luke’s Regional Cancer Center is also employing genomic and molecular profiling of tumors to treat cancer patients. “We firmly believe that genomic and molecular profiling allows us to create a more customized treatment plan for each individual patient, and can provide us with additional attractive treatment options for patients,” said Dr. Goueli. “We recognize that cancer care is changing at a breakneck pace, and we are constantly evolving to ensure that we are at the cutting edge of cancer treatment.”

Compassion and excellence

Effectively treating cancer is a balance of science and empathy. “At St. Luke’s Regional Cancer Center we treat our patients as though they are our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters or children,” said Dr. Goueli. “Our patients consistently get the best of our hearts and the best of our minds, and that’s not rhetoric. Our patients have a level of accessibility to their physician that is largely unprecedented, and we are very proud of that fact.”